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Dr. Barry Sears responds.

Posted Jan 07 2009 4:42pm

We started all this Zone stuff way back in 2008 (ahhh, feels like just yesterday).

I yammered about my love of The Zone & offered to hit Dr. Sears up with some of your questions when I had the opportunity to bombard him with a few of mine.

Please to grab a 40/30/30 snack, a bottle of water, take a seat & enjoy the ride Q&A session.

One concept which stuck with me from your first book is the notion that, if you crave sweets, you should look back at your last meal. Chances are the meal contained too many processed carbohydrates. That experience is entirely true for me: when I long for ice cream 99% of the time my last meal was carbheavy. Why does that happen?

Every meal you eat starts a new round of hormonal responses. This is why you are only as hormonally good as your last meal and will be only as hormonally good as your next. A meal or snack rich in carbohydrates (especially processed carbohydrates) will cause the secretion of excess insulin, which rapidly drives down blood sugar levels leaving you hungry and lethargic. Craving sweets after a carbohydrate-rich meal is a form of self-medication to address the low blood sugar, but in the process you start the hormonal roller coaster all over again.

I love protein bars. LOVE. They don’t tend to satisfy me, however, except for the Dr. Sears Zone TM brand —why is that? The higher fat content? The type of carbohydrates used in them? I need to know.

Making a bar that can control hormone levels is more of an engineering project. Different types of protein are required to get controlled release into the blood, and the carbohydrates have to be balanced to get the right rate of entry into the blood. I started making Zone bars in the early 1990’s, and today I am working on the 10 th generation. The key is the balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat to maintain insulin in a Zone that generates the satiety. Here’s a good rule of thumb. Eat a protein bar when you first wake up in the morning. You should expect 3 to 4 hours of hunger suppression. If you are hungry within two hours, you just ate an expensive candy bar. Unfortunately, most of the protein bars in the mass market fall into that latter category.

Do we really require omega 3 capsule supplementation? Im a skeptic. Cant we get enough through eating a healthy and varied diet & with the addition of my beloved ground flax seeds?

Flax seeds contain short-chain omega-3 fatty acids that are not easily converted into the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (like those in fish oil) that control inflammation. This means you would have to consume about 30 times the volume of flax seeds to get the same anti-inflammatory benefits as a much smaller amount of fish oil. My research has shown that you need about 2.5 grams of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids to have a significant anti-inflammatory effect. This would be equivalent to a tablespoon of cod liver oil (one of the most disgusting foods in the world) or four capsules of a highly refined omega-3 concentrates (like OmegaRx®). Alternatively, you could eat the same amount of fish that the Japanese do to get the 2.5 grams of long-chain omega-3 fats. That is about a pound of oily fish per day (highly unlikely for most Americans). However, flax seeds are rich in lignans that have additional health benefits. So take the fish oil capsules to reduce inflammation, and sprinkle flax seeds on your meal for some extra crunch and a good supply of lignans.

I let my Toddler Tornado eat Zone cereal. She loves it (apple doesnt fall far from the proteinlovin’ tree up in herre). Our pediatrician agrees that there is nothing wrong with doing so. What would you suggest I say to nosynellies others who insist TT doesn’t need much protein & the cereal goes overboard?

The most important nutrient for a growing child is protein. Zone Cereal TM is a very convenient way to make sure that kids will get enough. I usually recommend at least 15 grams of protein at each meal. With increased protein and decreased processed carbohydrates, you will also see a great improvement in behavior, making your life as parent a lot easier. Remember, kids have the same hormonal responses to food that adults do.

Can you explain, in lay(wo)man’s terms for the Bumbling Band, how fat loss and insulin levels are inextricably tied?

Fat can only be released from your fat cells if insulin levels are lowered. This is because excess insulin inhibits the enzyme required for the release of the stored fat into the blood where it can be converted into the chemical energy our bodies need to survive and move around. If you are eating a high-glycemic diet, insulin levels are constantly being elevated preventing the release of stored body fat. As a result you are constantly hungry and tired. If you develop insulin resistance, then insulin levels become even more elevated, and you are forced to eat ever increasing amount of calories in the hope that some of them can eventually be converted to the chemical energy you need to survive. About 75% of the American population is genetically predisposed to have insulin adversely affect the release of stored fat for energy especially if they are consuming a high-carbohydrate diet. This is why about 66% of the adult population is overweight or obese. They have a genetic “fat trap” that traps incoming dietary energy in their fat cells. It’s not fair, but this genetic predisposition can be overcome by following the Zone Diet. You can’t change your genes, but you can change their expression through your diet.

What studies have been published that support The Zone diet? Any?

There are numerous published studies under highly controlled circumstances that have demonstrated that the Zone Diet TM is superior in insulin control, blood sugar control, blood lipid control, and appetite control to standard recommended diets such as those from the government or medical associations. Many of these studies were done at Harvard Medical School. These studies can be found at or in my recent book, Toxic Fat. However, the best support for the Zone Diet may be the recent dietary recommendations from the Joslin Diabetes Research Center at Harvard Medical School for treating obesity and type 2 diabetes. Not surprisingly, these recommendations are essentially the Zone Diet.

I think the Zone SOUNDS easy, but I wonder in practicality how simple it could be. I need simple.

The Zone Diet is it incredibly easy to follow if you simply use your hand and eye at each meal. At each meal, divide your plate into three equal sections. On one-third of the plate, put some low-fat protein that is no bigger or thicker than the palm of your hand. Some of the best low-fat protein choices include skinless chicken, turkey, fish, egg whites, tofu or soy bean substitutes to name a few. Then fill the other two-thirds of the plate with colorful non-starchy vegetables and a little fruit on the side. This includes most vegetables except corn, potatoes and peas, and most fruits except bananas and raisins. Finally, add a dash (that’s a small amount) of monounsaturated fat, like olive oil, slivered almonds or guacamole. What you have constructed is a “drug” that will control insulin levels for the next four to six hours. Do this on a continual basis and you have an anti-inflammatory diet that will allow you to live a longer and better life.

If a person doesn’t eat much meat, what are the best ways to substitute lean protein, keeping in mind a person can only eat tofu so many times a week….

Great choices of low-fat protein (and non-meat) choices are egg whites, fish, soybean-based meat substitutes, such as hot dogs, hamburgers, sausage, etc. These soy-based products are free of isoflavones and other anti-nutrients commonly found in traditional soy products. In my book, The Soy Zone, you can find some excellent recipes for vegetarians like Tuscan Tempeh and Chickpea Casserole with Broccoli or Spinach Feta Pie. also features great vegetarian recipes that are free.

How is the Zone for those of us who eat only seafood/eggs/cheese but no other meat products?

Protein is protein no matter what its source. Eating only seafood, egg whites (the yolks are rich in arachidonic acid that causes silent inflammation), and low-fat cheese are often superior to meat products such as poultry and beef. This is because these non-meat protein choices are lower in arachidonic acid. By making these your primary protein choices you are enhancing the anti-inflammatory properties of the Zone Diet.

How can we do the Zone on a limited budget (MizFit note: I loved this commentquestion! so applicable in today’s economy)?

The largest cost of the Zone Diet is due to the generous use of vegetables and fruits. Using of frozen fruits and vegetables is best way to limit food expenses on the Zone Diet. Not only do frozen vegetables and fruits contain more nutrients, they are less likely to go bad. Canned vegetables and fruits are more economical, because they will have considerably lower levels of vitamins. However, they still contain low-glycemic carbohydrates with fiber and other important phytochemicals such as polyphenols. Since following the Zone Diet you will be satiated longer, you quickly find out that you are actually eating less total calories, and will end up saving money on your overall food bi ll.

As a runner and an endurance athlete, how can I follow and/or modify the zone diet to work for me?

The only modification to the standard Zone Diet is to add more fat. Athletes will need more total protein and carbohydrate than a sedentary person, but not that much more. But they require significantly more fat. Numerous endurance athletes follow the Zone Diet including ultra-marathoner champion Dean Karnazes. Dean follows the Zone Diet very strictly to adapt his body to burning fat more effectively for conversion into ATP during an ultra-marathon. It is fat that provides endurance athletes with the greatest percentage of ATP as the distance of the race increases. Endurance athletes should consider fat as high-octane fuel since it provides far more ATP per calorie than glucose. You can visit this page to learn more about these athletes, their training plans, and how they follow the Zone Diet to help them achieve optimum performance.

To be honest I don’t ‘get’ any of the inflammation stuff. Can you explain on a very basic level?

There are two types of inflammation. The first is the type that hurts, the second is below the perception of pain. It is this second type of inflammation that is known as silent inflammation and it appears to be the underlying cause of most chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Since there is no pain associated with silent inflammation, you do nothing to stop it until there is enough organ damage for it to be called chronic disease. Any type of inflammation (screaming or silent) signals the body to roll out its immunological troops that destroy surrounding tissue. Silent inflammation simply does it at a slower rate so it doesn’t cause immediate pain. But without stopping the silent inflammation, the micro-damage accumulates until the organ is eventually compromised. The only way to reduce silent inflammation is by an anti-inflammatory diet like the Zone Diet. Since silent inflammation is always present, you have to follow the Zone Diet for a lifetime to keep it under control.

There you go, People. Dr. Sears has spoken and you (& I) asked the questions.

Whatcha thinking now?



Need a follow-up?

Wanna challenge Dr. Sears to a duel debate of some sort?

Please to hit us up in the comments and be simultaneously entered to win a copy of Dr. Sears’ new bookToxic Fat (of which he has generously agreed to give away three copies).

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